Elon tornado: One year later

Published: Apr. 15, 2019 at 5:29 PM EDT
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Standing on a cliff overlooking Nottaway Drive, it is clear that a sense of normalcy has returned to the neighborhood below.

Two young girls ride their bikes up and down the long stretch of road, giggling while they loop in and out of driveways. It's a sight that not many would have imagined one year prior.

"It looked like someone was painting black on our windows," said Millie Fink, who attends Elon Elementary School. "I couldn't see them."

The Fink family home was one of 46 severely damaged by an EF-3 tornado in April exactly one year ago, Monday.

The tornado damaged 190 structures; 24 were determined to be restricted use and 22 of them were classified as a total loss. The cost of damages reached over $6 million.

Families lives were changed in an instant and recovery is ongoing. Construction equipment has been in the neighborhood everyday for the last year. Some families are moved back in, while others don't have walls yet.

The Finks were one of the first families to move back to the neighborhood.

"I would want you to know that we're all safe," said Millie.

"That my family protects me," said Eliza Fink, Millie's sister.

The two elementary school students talked about what they have learned and gained in the last year. Eliza was most excited about her new scooter, Millie is a big fan of the new house. Both girls were thrilled that they have a new neighbor post-tornado who is their age.

"If it was going to happen to someone it's okay that it happened to us... I mean we're fine," said Leecy Fink, Millie and Eliza's mother.

Through out the neighborhood, it's clear that recovery has no timeline.

"There are no words to describe what I felt the first time I drove through here after the storm," said Debbie Habel with the Amherst Disaster Recovery Group. "I cried the whole time, but to sit here today and see the work we accomplished. How far it's come- it's just amazing."

The Amherst Disaster Recovery Group formed in the days following the tornado. With the help of multiple agencies, hundreds of volunteers and millions of dollars in donations, they report that just five homes are still being reconstructed.

The ADRG credits the Virginia Department of Emergency Management for assisting the county in recovery.

According to the ADRG, Gleaning for the World, The Salvation Army, Amherst Chamber of Commerce, Amherst County Habitat for Humanity, the United Way and God's Pit Crew helped in recovery efforts.

"It's a somber day to remember something so tragic, but it's also an exciting day to say so much has been accomplished," said David Garrison, Chair of the ADRG.

Amidst all of the numbers, though, 30 families, 10 caseworkers, 46 homes, 500 volunteers, one number still sticks out. Zero lives taken.

"Thank you God for saving my family, thank you God for saving my neighbors. When you thank god for that you kind of just have to forget about the other stuff," said Fink. "You might lose a picture, but you've got the kids."